I sometimes wonder if all this hype about women’s empowerment is nothing but a joke. So you pass a couple of laws (supposedly) protecting women’s rights and making punishments harsher for those who violate them, and reserve one third of those parliament seats for the ladies. Does that really make the woman living this country empowered? Yes, one cannot deny that there is a sea change in attitude towards women, especially in the last couple of decades (and ironically it is both for the best and the worst), still, how many women do we know in top leadership positions today? We can count them out of our fingers, compared to male icons. What on earth is it that binds us back, despite all the efforts being made to thrust us forth?
The answer is simple, yet profound. The secret lies within, rather than without. We are reluctant to empower ourselves first. Let me explain with an anecdote. There was this voter id registration drive a couple of weeks back in our community. My husband and I had gone to get our ids registered. Some photocopies needed to be taken, so the husband went off to the xerox shop, while I waited with my son in the nearby park. Within minutes another lady from our building sauntered into the park, her two toddlers in the tow. I asked her if she was not getting her voter id made, and the response that I got from her is the prime motivator for this post. In the past two weeks, the drive is over and we have met each other a couple of times since then, but her response that day still continues to bother me.
When I popped her the question, she looked at me, confused and hesitant. She clearly hadn’t read the notices that had been posted everywhere in the community, and she didn’t want to go through the trouble of informing her in-laws and husband about the process to get theirs done. Her response was more like, “Do I really have to go and get this made? If it is important, they (the FIL and hubby) would have seen it and done something about it. I don’t know anything about it, and don’t want to take the headache of this over my other existing responsibilities.”
Well, maybe she was plain disinterested or lazy, but her complete lack of awareness surprised me. You live in a community and are a part of its activities, but you don’t even know what is happening inside your own compound. Even when there are notices everywhere. You depend on the male members of your family to inform you and take care of things that are going around you and probably affect you?
I am sure if I had probed her further, she would have reasoned that she was so busy with her two kids that she had time for nothing else. I can’t really blame her for this logic, for at some level, all of us women are guilty of this attitude. Most of us become so engrossed in building the family and caring for it that we find very little time for anything outside. We are not aware of what is going on in the outside world, and end up losing touch with the bigger picture, and our very identity. I stand guilty as charged, for there was a time in the recent past when I would not even know that Greece was going bankrupt, and the economy of our own country was tottering dangerously on the brink of a steep precipice (it perhaps still is). Thankfully I realized that the only thing I am losing by being so cut off from everything outside my four walls is my own self-esteem. I had started to feel like a robot, doing just the chores it was programmed to perform, not bothering if the world outside was blooming or crumbling to pieces. Thankfully I gathered myself together before becoming a faceless identity-less entity wallowing in self-pity and sinking deep into depression. The lady in my example, I have seen her do all that, and in addition rant constantly about her domestic woes, so much so that people have started avoiding her nowadays.
We need to really come out of the rut of husband and children and in-laws and the menu for the next meal and look at ourselves and the whole world. And here I am not talking about just those women who do not have education or means. I am talking of even those well-educated, previously-well-earning-but-now-only-yearning women who can’t seem to do anything better than look at their pre-marriage / while-I-was-a-career-woman pictures and sigh about the good ol’ days. If we do not respect our space and identity first, neither will our husbands or children (I am not even starting about other relatives here). I do not mean that we ignore them, but we need to acknowledge that there is a huge world outside of our family, be aware of what is going on there and strive to make a meaningful contribution there. Acknowledgment, Awareness, Contribution – AAC, in typical management style.
There are numerous organizations and forums that are working towards ’empowering’ economically deprived or abused women. However, there need to be sufficient support networks for women to empower their self-identity too. Like Lord Hanuman, we need to be reminded of our own potential sometimes so that our inertia doesn’t sap it all away. I would like to believe that the traditional kitty groups were created towards fulfilling this purpose, if only they did not become nurturing grounds for bitching and gossiping. There are various online communities and forums that are bringing together women with an online presence and building a symbiotic network where the women can share and learn from each others experiences, and encourage each other to deal with their lives in a positive manner. Here’s hoping that soon, such networks will spread their branches far and wide, and ’empower’ all women, online or offline, to first be their own masters and look at themselves with love and respect. When that happens, that is when I will believe that the women of our country are fully and truly empowered.